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Ann Howard



Born: July 22, 1934; Died: Mach 26, 2014

Ann Howard, who has died aged 79, was one of a cluster of young, ambitious singers lured into important roles by Scottish Opera in its early years, when the company's first Ring cycle was being assembled and the hoped-for staging of The Trojans was changing from being a remote prospect into a thrilling certainty.

Howard, a tall, elegantly statuesque mezzo-soprano, straddled both these events. portraying Fricka, Waltraute and an occasional Norn in Wagner's Ring, and declaiming, with the highest splendour, Cassandra's sinister predictions in The Trojans, all of them under Sir Alexanfer Gibson's dedicated conductorship.

Singing for Sadler's Wells Opera during the same period, she ensured that her sense of fun was sufficient to convey the comic obverse of some of these roles, including Helen of Troy in Offenbach's La Belle Helene, Coulotte in the same composer's Bluebeard, and Czipra in Johann Strauss's The Gypsy Baron. She was also a hilarious Baba the Turk in Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress.

Born in South London, she began her career as a Bond Street shop assistant before launching herself into the world of operetta, pantomime, and musical comedy. A chance to study in Paris helped her to develop the French side of her repertoire, culminating in Carmen (a role she sang 250 times, first in London, then in New York and New Orleans with Placido Domingo), and Saint-Saens's Samson and Delilah.

But the influence of Wagner was no less strong, not only the roles already mentioned but Brangaene in Tristan and Isolde and Ortrud in Lohengrin. Her flair for evil characterisation was something she also exploited as the Witch in Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel , inspiring her to declare that "witches and bitches" were what she was best at. Her portrayal of the cat-slayer Jezibaba in David Pountney's production of Dvorak's Rusalka proved the point, and Clytemnestra in Strauss's Elektra was well in keeping with her stage personality.

Modern opera never deterred her, especially if she could portray a flagellating wife, as in Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre with English National Opera, or the creepy Mrs Danvers in Opera North's production of Rebecca. The dark allure of some of her operatic appearances could be memorably powerful.

In later years she devoted herself to teaching. She was married to Keith Giles, a pianist who assisted her in her career and who died ten years ago. She is survived by their daughter.

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